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AMI Standards: A Work in Progress

Vendors battle it out while utilities await common communications protocols.

Fortnightly Magazine - September 2008

the state’s 100 retail electricity providers (REPs) put it to work. The repository will be accessible to customers, who can review their energy use and requirements on-line, and the REPs, which will use the data to tailor their offerings to fit the customer’s energy requirements. Putting the AMI standards in place to get the repository program up and running—there’s no projected completion date yet—is critical to moving the state’s retail electricity markets to the next level.

“We’re working with all the state’s utilities and delivery companies to standardize the data repository so the REPs can go in via an Internet portal and get the use data they need,” Cortez says. “The repository will be owned by, and operated by, the four major electricity providers. Right now we’re being guided by the PUC staff and soliciting information from the REPs. But everyone wants to get the meter and repository programs underway.”

IP-based Solutions

Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy is taking a somewhat similar approach to AMI with its Indiana affiliate, though it believes AMI communications standards should be IP-based throughout a utility’s distribution network.

“We’d like to see an entirely IP-based network, starting at the meter. Itron and other vendors offer a good AMI solution, but if you want to put a line sensor near a transformer and bring the data back through their network, you have to have an interface that provides entry to it. That’s why we would favor an IP-based solution,” explains Kevin Spainhour, Duke’s strategic planning manager. “Of course, that would make the meter more of a commodity and that may not be a good thing for the meter manufacturers.” Duke Energy Indiana announced in May its intent to install smart meters on some 800,000 homes and businesses that will, at least initially, provide the utility with remote meter-reading capabilities only. However, the new meters are part of what Duke calls a five-year smart-grid initiative that eventually will include HAN devices and sensors throughout the distribution system, all of which will communicate with each other through a unified computer network.

Though he wouldn’t reveal which meter vendors the utility is considering—the proposal is still before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission—Spainhour says the AMI standards-making process still has a long way to go.

“For example, we’ve heard a lot about the open ZigBee communication standard, but from our perspective that’s not an open communications standard. We’d like to see all the devices, both the meter and the in-home devices, IP-based,” he says, “ZigBee isn’t. It’s a proprietary radio communications protocol and all the HAN devices have to communicate on that protocol.” True enough, but it’s early in the game and many within the industry say utilities have to bite the bullet and start somewhere. “Itron’s Open Way uses the ZigBee standards and that’s what’s going to be used by SCE. And now (CenterPoint) in Texas is going to use it as well. Everybody wants the HAN standards to be future proof but these utilities have gambled to speed things up,” says Edmund P. Finamore, president of smart-grid consulting firm ValuTech Solutions.